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Front-of-package labelling (FOPL) – Healthy choice for consumers

By Ashim Sanyal, COO Consumer VOICE

Did you know that poor diet is not limited to insufficient intake of nutrients but also excess intake of salt, sugar and fat which is one of the biggest cause of non-communicable diseases worldwide, with India being no exception. According to the National Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy Survey report 2019, Males showed a prevalence of diabetes (12%) as females (11.7%). Cases of Type 2 diabetes is on the rise and every year globally 15 million people die from NCD between the ages of 30 and 69 years. Something serious must be done, before it reaches a pandemic and an important way to control it is availability and accessibility of healthier choices. How can this be done? This can be done through front of package labelling or FOPL.

What is Front-of-package labelling (FOPL)

Front-of-package labelling refers to symbols and rating systems, including shelf-tag labels, which are designed to summarize the key nutritional characteristics of food products.

Front-of-package labels have been proposed as an approach to help consumers make healthier food choices at the point of purchase. However, there are concerns about the possible misinterpretation of front-of-package labels. Currently, there is no consensus on the most effective front-of-package format. There is a wide variety of front-of-package labelling systems that are inconsistent, which may add to consumers’ confusion.

Labeling is an effective policy tool when consumer preferences differ as noted in several nutrition labelling studies. Consumers have different concerns about nutrition. The standardized nutrition label provides a large amount of clear, concise nutrition information and allows consumers to make their own choices. 

How will FOP help consumers?

Food label represents the identity card of food products: it reports composition, ingredients and their relative amounts, it informs about quality, origin, processing and preservation. This information gives the consumer the opportunity to consciously choose what to purchase. The label could concretely help us in protecting and improving our health, if our choices are supported by some basic knowledge of wholesome nutrition, based on a balanced and varied diet. In a wider perspective, this may translate into a reduction of obesity and chronic disease incidence – closely related to negative eating habits – and significantly impact on public health in terms of costs for individuals and medical systems.

Public organizations are taking particular care in encouraging the population to adopt healthier lifestyles and to comply with wholesome dietary habits, since diet is one of the earliest modifiable risk factors everyone could personally handle to protect his own health. 

In this regard, FSSAI, the country’s apex food regulator, announced the formation of an expert panel to look into the draft Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2018, which were announced in April 2018.

To date, three main nutritional goals are strongly recommended to reduce the risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes as well as cardio vascular diseases: to reduce salt, saturated and trans fats intakes, while increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables. We also remind that this needs to be joined to appropriate physical activity.  

Future of FOP Labeling

In recent years, it has been stressed the need to provide the consumers more and more accurate, detailed and crystal clear labels, specifying the types and relative amounts of saturated and unsaturated fats, polyoils, starch, salt and fiber; the list of preservatives, additives, dyes and allergens. As consumers continue to struggle with issues related to unhealthy consumption, the front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labels will provide nutrition information in more understandable formats. Choosing products with coloured lables will be easy and less complicated for consumers. The marketplace is filled with different FOP labels, but their true effects remain unclear, as does which label works best to change perceptions and behaviors.  

For simpler, more attention-grabbing forms of communicating, the nutritional content and relative healthfulness of food products should be in graphical mode so that consumers can straightaway pick up products which are less harmful for daily use and indulge in other foods with higher risks sometimes. In India, we are still struggling with label descriptions which tend to confuse even consumers who understand the label contents.    

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